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One essential thing you must do with your digital life before it’s too late

Estate planning is an important task that everyone should take the time to manage. We’re all familiar with the concept of a tradition will where you lay out what should happen to your assets, but the legacy of your digital life is important, too.

Many of our experiences are kept and shared online through social media sites like Facebook, our email accounts, and in photo archives like Google Photos. You may want your heirs, friends, or family to have access to some or all of these.

Here are some steps to take to help get your digital estate in order, including how to handle your Facebook and Google accounts.

Take stock of your digital accounts

Your first step is to decide which digital assets you want your heirs to be able to access, including your social media accounts and email. Write out a list of your accounts. If you include usernames and passwords, then be sure to store them in a secure location and periodically update the information as needed. Your estate-planning attorney can help you update your will to reflect your wishes for your digital assets.

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You’ve made your list of accounts and you likely have Google and Facebook near the top. Fortunately, both companies have developed ways to prepare your information for after your passing. It just takes a few steps to get set up and know your loved ones will still be able to access this part of your digital life.

Add a Facebook legacy contact

Facebook offers a way for you to designate a legacy contact, a person who can manage your social media account if you should pass away. The legacy contact can write a pinned post for your profile as a farewell message or as a way to let your friends know the details of a memorial service. Your designated person can also respond to friend requests, update your profile and cover photos, and request the removal of your account.

There are limits to what the legacy contact can do. He or she won’t be able to access your messages, remove or alter past posts, or delete friends.

Here’s how to set it up. Go to your general account settings and choose “Manage Account.” Use the “Choose a friend” box to add your legacy contact. That person will receive an email explaining how the process works. You might want to check with that friend or family member before you add them to make sure they’re willing to handle the responsibility.

Set up a Google trusted contact

Google has a method called Inactive Account Manager for handling your account after your death. You set up a trusted contact and that person will be notified if your account goes inactive after a certain period of time. You can choose what aspects of your Google data are shared with that person.

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You can customize the account manager quite a bit. For starters, choose a waiting period between three months and 18 months before your trusted contact is notified. You can specify up to 10 contacts and also arrange an autoreply to emails if your account goes inactive. Google will walk you through the setup process and let you choose exactly what information you share, including Drive, Photos, Calendar, Maps, and even your shopping lists.

A little preparation ahead of time can make managing your digital assets a lot easier for your heirs. It can give you peace of mind knowing your online life will be in order and valuable photos and memories won’t be lost.

What does Google know about you?

You may live a lot of your digital life through Google services.

Click here to learn what private information Google collects.

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